History under siege


PERRYSBURG – Without financial support for sites and outreach programming, many local history advocates
predict Fort Meigs may become a casualty of the state’s proposed budget.
About 50 historical program supporters – including representatives from Ohio Historical Society, Fort
Meigs battlefield and Wood County Historical Society – formed a flash mob at Levis Commons Tuesday to
protest reductions in OHS funding that the State Senate passed in late May. Historical interpreters from
Fort Meigs, who are usually seen bringing history to life, lay on the ground beneath the shopping center
fountain for about two minutes to symbolize the death of Ohio history.
According to OHS, the proposed budget reductions would translate into diminished or terminated historical
services and programs. OHS believes the cuts will make programs such as National History Day in Ohio,
many of the state’s 58 OHS-administered historic sites and teacher training a thing of the past. The
historical society also warns of the budget’s incapacitating effect on staff support for local
historical societies, OHS services located outside central Ohio as well its ability to generate
non-state revenues.
"We want to bring attention to the fact that the Ohio Historical Society budget has been cut all the
way down to 1994 levels, so this is the same funding that we received 15 years ago," said Rick
Finch, Fort Meigs site manager.
Finch and others affiliated with OHS also are quick to point out that the agency is not asking for
additional funding. Rather, OHS wants the amount originally appropriated by the State House and later
struck down by the senate to be restored.
The senate version of the budget – which cuts $750,000 from sites and museums and removes the outreach
and programming as well as the historic grants line items completely – represents a 26-percent reduction
in OHS funding from two years ago. OHS is asking supporters to implore their senators and
representatives to restore the site and museum funding as well as $703,000 for outreach services.
Finch said those campaigning for restored funding appreciate the legislature’s difficulty in funding
state agencies with shrinking resources, but said the state of Ohio’s historical preservation
programming warrants special consideration because it impacts the future of generations across the
entire state.
"History doesn’t stop, and we keep making more history every day," said Kim Schuette,
communications manager for OHS. "That’s the thing about history. And we have had cuts since 2001
consistently, and we’re not able to cut across the board anymore."
If the budget passes as-is, Fort Meigs faces to possibility of shutting down after Labor Day, said
Priscilla Schwier, who serves on the historic site’s cabinet. The second most-visited historic site in
Ohio, Fort Meigs "brings a tremendous amount of tourists to Wood County and Northwest Ohio. Tens of
thousands of people visit Fort Meigs every year," she said.
Ashley Phlipot, a historical interpreter for Fort Meigs who would later feign death on the bricks in her
soldier’s wife garb, said she hoped the group’s dramatic statement would encourage more people to
approach their senators and representatives about finding funding to keep historical sites open. Places
like Fort Meigs are particularly important in educating the public about some of the less-talked-about
events in American and regional history, she said.
The budget cuts would have a less direct impact upon the Wood County Historical Society, said Christie
Raber, WCHS director. However, if the budget passes, the state would halt funding for the OHS Local
History Office, which coordinates services and assistance for historical organizations across the state.
Most recently, WCHS relied on that office to learn how to construct professional-quality mannequins to
display delicate textiles during its "Victorian’s Secret" exhibit.
"We know that the budget is really tight," she said. "We know that our legislators are
facing some very tough decisions, but we hope that they and the public realizes how important our
history is."
Sen. Mark Wagoner, R-Ottawa Hills, who voted for the senate’s version of the budget, said the house
version was based on numbers that were "artificially inflated" before it became apparent that
a $6-9 million hole existed in the state budget.
OHS was not targeted for reductions, said Wagoner, who worked with local history advocates to place a
historical society tax check-off program in the budget. Of the 106 state agencies, he said, the senate
was forced to cut funding from 104.
"We need to advocate for Ohio’s history," Wagoner said. "Message has been received. It’s
just an issue of – we’re facing declining revenues and unless, you know, a whole new pile of money ends
up in the state coffers, which I don’t think it’s going to, we’re going to be faced with difficult
With the leaner senate version of the state appropriations now approved, the budget is expected to be
rejected by the house. At that point, the proposed budget would enter a conference committee as early as
this week. The committee, consisting of members from the house and the senate, would try to reconcile
differences between each chamber’s version before the next fiscal year begins July 1.
"This is not a cut targeted at all to the historical society," Wagoner said. "These are
broad-based reductions along all state agencies. It’s just a product of declining revenue, and these are
just difficult decisions to make."CLICK

No posts to display